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  • MARK GRAHAM / Associated Press file, 2008

    Gov. Jerry Brown wants the state to drop a required report on the Australian government's plans for harvesting wild kangaroos. The annual report is part of a law pushed by sporting-goods firm Adidas that allows California to import kangaroo-skin athletic shoes.

  • Steve Wiegand

On the Lighter Side: Brown steps into kangaroo shoe-do

Published: Sunday, Apr. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3E
Last Modified: Sunday, Apr. 29, 2012 - 2:48 pm

Those who peruse the news may have been startled the other day by accounts that Gov. Jerry Brown, in the name of government efficiency and economy, wants to abolish 718 state-mandated reports that he deems unnecessary.

The startling part was that he could find only 718. He clearly didn't check real diligently in the back of the Capitol's closets.

Among the reports the guv recommended for abolition is one that is supposed to be issued each year to the Legislature by the state Department of Fish and Game. The report concerns how many kangaroos the Australian government plans to allow to be legally killed and cut up for parts in the coming year. The governor's office noted – one assumes with a straight face – that "this report has no impact on wildlife management in California."

Ah, but behind every story is another story, and this particular back story involves governors, legislators, bureaucrats on two continents, an international mega-company, the California Supreme Court, four or five species of Macropodidae – and maybe an argument for a part-time state government.

I call it "Tie Me Kangaroos On, Sport," or, "That's Shoe Business."

Once upon a time – in 1970 – Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a bill that became California Penal Code Section 6530. This section prohibits the importation into the state of dead bodies, or body parts, of no fewer than 21 different kinds of animals, including the vicuna, the colobus monkey, the Spanish lynx, the free-roaming feral horse, and the kangaroo, of which there are 54 kinds.

I'm not sure about the colobus monkey, but more than a few California retailers blithely hopped right around the kangaroo ban. It seems soccer aficionados loved to sport shoes made from kangaroo skin, which they claimed were lighter and more flexible than shoes made from cows or pigs or marine iguanas. Soccer superstar David Beckham, for example, enthusiastically endorsed kangaroo-skin shoes made by Adidas, the German-headquartered athletic gear manufacturer. So sports stores in the Golden State did illegally what sports stores in 49 other states did legally: sold kangaroo-skin shoes.

But in 2003, two things happened. One was that a British animal-rights group sued Adidas for violating California law by peddling 'roo shoes within the state. The other was that legislators sympathetic to the needs of soccer players and shoe sales introduced what became a series of five bills over three legislative sessions to remove kangaroos from the state's no-sell list.

The first four bills failed, in large part because some lawmakers were distressed to learn that the legally prescribed way of dealing with baby kangaroos found in the pouches of mother kangaroos that had been killed was to bop the baby hard on the noggin, or cut its head off altogether. Plus, the shoe company didn't contribute to legislators' campaign coffers.

Adidas initially had better luck dealing with California's judiciary. Judges at the trial and appellate court levels ruled that the state's ban was trumped by federal law, which allowed the importation of kangaroo remnants from the four or five species the Australian government said were not endangered.

In 2007, however, the state Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts. In a unanimous decision, the high court ruled that California had the right to ban whatever dead animal parts it chose, no matter what the federal government said.

Of course this presented a bit of a problem for Adidas. But you don't get to be a mega-shoe company by placing all your eggs in one loafer. Even as the court was pondering the case, the company became the major sponsor behind Senate Bill 880. By major sponsor, I mean Adidas made $46,200 in campaign contributions to the state Democratic Party and various legislators. This was approximately $46,200 more than the company had made in the previous year.

Authored by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, the bill suspended the kangaroo ban until 2011.

"In Australia, they (kangaroos) are a menace," Calderon explained. "They're a menace to the agricultural industry, and they go into people's backyards and injure people and their pets."

To help ease the consciences of – and secure the votes from – some of his colleagues, Calderon agreed to an amendment: State Fish and Game officials would have to keep tabs on how many 'roos the Australian government planned to "harvest" in the coming year, and report it to lawmakers. If it exceeded the number killed in 2007, Fish and Game had to put a halt to the imports, which to date hasn't happened.

Calderon's bill eventually passed the Legislature on bipartisan votes and was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was well-known to sport boots made from such exotic species as ostriches, alligators and Shasta County Democrats. Schwarzenegger's signature meant the court's decision was moot. In 2010, legislators extended the kangaroo-parts exemption to 2016 – and kept in the required report that the governor wants to abolish.

And that, boys and girls, is where government reports come from. Oh, and to get rid of the apparently onerous and unnecessary report?

It will take an act of the Legislature.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Steve Wiegand

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